Herefordshire, United Kingdom
I was going to say I awoke to the sounds and smells of Liam cooking up a camp breakfast of eggs, beans and coffee but that would imply that I slept and I don’t wish to mislead you. None the less, the morning meal was very much appreciated ahead of our days physical challenge – ‘Canadian Canoeing’ (to clarify, this is what I believe the rest of us just call ‘canoeing’ as opposed to what the British refer to as ‘canoeing’ which I believe the rest of us call ‘kayaking’).
It’s important to mention at this stage that of our merry band, our two British/American couples Liam & Megan, Jules & Geoff all met whilst working at summer camp in the USA where much canoeing (and canoodling) was done… and then there was Alfie and I, flying the flag for the detached and diseased – if I thought I’d had a rough night, Alfie had clearly had a worse one, barely able to hold his head up, never mind a paddle and me who’s only been in a canoe for a 15 minutes once before and with a burgeoning addiction to Sudafed in an attempt to maintain my position as second sickest. With two people per canoe, it didn’t look good for our team.
Liam and Megan saved the day by sacrificing their love boat to again deal with the children – Liam paired up with Alfie, Megan drew the short straw and off we paddled along the River Wye as far as our arms would carry us. The river was crowded with swans and signets which we’d been warned to avoid at all costs. The scenery was spectacular and serene especially as the rain clouds cleared, giving way to a glorious day with perfect blue skies.
After a few hours of rowing, we pulled our canoes ashore for a lunch break and a drink at a nearby pub before successfully climbing back in and continuing gently down the stream. Realising that we were making quite good time, we decided to make another stop to enjoy the sunshine. Unfortunately, Megan and I had already overshot the jump off point so had the momentous task of turning our canoe around and paddling against the current. I am under no delusions that it was anything but Megan’s arms of steel that saved us, not least of all from the imminent swan attack, as I did little more than ineffectually slap the water with my paddle.
Recharged after our brief intermission in a field of thistles, we once again climbed aboard for the final stretch beneath a now blazing sun, all very happy campers albeit with throbbing arms and pink noses. Even poor Alfie had been buoyed by the day. It’s unclear if it was the text from his mum informing us of Peter Faulk’s death or just being on dry land again, but it was a short lived revival before he all but passed out in the car on the drive back to the campsite. We left him there while everyone else decided to follow suit and have a little nap before dinner.
I however, decided to roam the grounds with my phone in search of reception looking for all the world like a Star Fleet officer on an away mission scanning for life signs with my tricorder (if that sentence doesn’t make sense to you, you haven’t watched enough Star Trek). I picked up a few bars and was able to make a call to Northern Ireland to arrange my visit in a couple of days time.
The party got into full swing again with some hoop action – everyone had a go but without a doubt, the star of the show was Geoff who seemed to keep the hoop in rotation with sheer aggression and determination. It was a beautiful site to behold!
Plans were made to go to a ‘nearby’ pub for dinner sans Alfie who by this stage was back in his pod with a look that made us all wonder if he would soon be leaving us to join Columbo. After a few false starts, we headed off down a bridle path that allegedly led straight to the pub. 45 minutes later we were thinking maybe we should’ve turned left at Albuquerque but by the powers of my tricorder and Geoff’s need for beer, we eventually found the most hospitable pub in the United Kingdom. We ate, drank and were indeed very merry, especially when our host spared us the walk back in the dark by offering us a lift.
Today was such a joy for me, a step outside my comfort zone where I found a sense of achievement and adventure, made possible only by the kindness, camaraderie and very literal support of friends old and new (mostly getting in and out of a canoe).